Fat America: Profiting off the Majority-Minority

Fat Wallet

A fundamental pillar of body diversity activism is the concept that fat people are a persecuted minority in this country. Statistically, people classified as “overweight” actually make up over two-thirds of the population. That means we can’t be considered as a minority, right?

Wrong.

This statistical discrepancy is used as fuel to discredit the body acceptance movement. What a cursory internet search reveals, however, is that this is a legitimate phenomenon called the “majority-minority”. In Texas, New Mexico, and California, for example, non-White Hispanics constitute a majority-minority, in that their population outnumbers that of other races in the same region. This majority-minority status does not negate the discrimination faced by the Hispanic population. Things like housing discrimination and hate crimes (which among immigrant populations are most likely higher than reported due to fear of deportation), are just as bad in these states compared to states where Hispanics are merely a minority-minority group.

Increased population, and thus visibility, is not a cure for discrimination. This is painfully apparent when looking at the treatment of fat people. Even though fat bodies, or at least bigger than “average” bodies (think about that statement for a second) are by far the numerically dominant group. Logically, businesses should be catering to us. Services should be catering to us. People who make waiting room seats, underpants, and cars should all be catering to our big butts. There are billions of dollars to be made here. A capitalist’s wet dream.

Instead, I hear arguments along the lines of, “just because you’ve let yourself get fat doesn’t mean you deserve special treatment”.

Is it special treatment when it directly caters toward the majority of people?

In fact, weight-loss is a huge money-making industry. It just doesn’t cater to us. It tricks us into THINKING it’s catering to us. In actuality, it’s taking advantage of us. Warning: dieting and weight shaming ahead.

From media empire charlatans …

… to the tech industry …

… to multi-level marketing schemes…

… to the pharmaceutical industry …

The diet industry is a $60 billion a year industry, and it works if your metric for “working” is making a shit ton of money reliably over time. What it doesn’t succeed in doing, however, is helping people lose weight and achieve that much sought-after “average”-ness. Most people regain the weight they lose. Businesses and corporations stand to gain by keeping your sad ass fat, and your fat ass sad. By treating the majority like a minority group, by keeping us feeling disenfranchised, lonely, ugly, and unloveable, corporations can keep us buying things that don’t work and things we don’t need. Fat Americans face discrimination on an economic level, with constant messages telling us we aren’t worth anything unless we change. That we don’t deserve to be treated well unless we stop being “lazy” and “exert some effort”. We are subjected to scare tactics, personal attacks, and public shame. “Average” and “thin” people are susceptible to these messages as well. People are pressured to utilize “willpower” to maintain their physique, to eat certain foods and take certain medicines so they don’t devolve into a dreaded fat person. This fuels societal stigma, and creates a body-type based class system where thin people benefit from fat people staying fat. People who stay “fit” because they “put down the cheeseburger” or “get off their ass”. They can feel superior. They can feel “better than”. They can feel right, as long as they keep taking their probiotics and count every calorie and exercise 90 minutes a day.

Show me a world where we aren’t profiting off telling people being fat is bad and you might just have a case against the overweight in this country being a true minority.

Mindy Kaling challenges the Fat Sea Monster

fat sea monster

A reader and old friend of mine recently asked for my feedback on a clip from Jimmy Kimmel Live featuring Mindy Kaling. She was fresh from an interview with Vogue where she talked about not needing or wanting to be skinny. She and Jimmy discussed the article, and the feedback she’s received since.

She made a lot of good points, particularly regarding how it shouldn’t be weird for someone to want to be the size that they are, and in that way she really isn’t a role model. Her main point, however, was oftentimes people disguise criticism as compliment by praising her boldness for not feeling “like she needs to subscribe to the ideals of beauty”. She followed up with an echoic, comparative statement that initially sounded like she was putting them in their place: “It’s so refreshing that Mindy feels comfortable that she can let herself go and be a fat sea monster”. She then made sure to let the audience know that she works out and runs all the time, as a qualifier.

What Mindy is actually saying with all of this is that she has a normal body (whatever that means), and it shouldn’t be a big deal for others to accept it. It’s not like she’s huge, or weird, or lazy, or tentacled.

This video is a good example of a trend I am seeing where women are reclaiming their bodies as “normal” and saying size shouldn’t matter. Except if you are too big. Too big is bad. Also, don’t be too skinny. There is a new “normal” that doesn’t include the very fat or the very thin.

One of the last things Mindy said regarded courage. She mocked people for calling her courageous for wearing a mid-drift top. For some women, even wearing a sleeveless top is a panic-inducing premise. People are made to feel insecure about themselves on a daily basis to the point that it impacts how they dress themselves, and how they present themselves to the world. It does take courage to stand up to daily abuse, and it does take courage to look inside oneself and find the strength to love yourself inside and out. Mindy minimized this struggle so flippantly that I now share her irritation at her idolization.

Fat Tropes: Stupidity

fat stupid

“Fat” has a lot of negative connotations: lazy, gluttonous, slothful, helpless, ugly. One of the worst, most damaging associations is the idea that fat people are stupid. This stereotype is prolific throughout popular culture, reinforced under the guise of “humor” and “life lessons”.

Homer Simpson:

Homer Simpson is the quintessential stupid fat character. He makes decisions at a very base level, with food and drink serving as primary motivators:

This donut has purple in the middle, purple is a fruit.

He is uncultured:

Books are useless! I only ever read one book, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” and it gave me absolutely no insight on how to kill mockingbirds! Sure it taught me not to judge a man by the color of his skin…but what good does that do me?

He is ignorant of basic science and math facts:

The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side!

His diminished intellectual capacity is inextricably tied to his comedic value.

Augustus Gloop:

Augustus Gloop is a “gluttonous” boy motivated by the consumption of sweets and chocolate. In fact, he’s so wholly dull that eating is the only thing he cares about:

‘I just knew Augustus would find a Golden Ticket,’ his mother had told the newspapermen. ‘He eats so many bars of chocolate a day that it was almost impossible for him not to find one. Eating is his hobby, you know. That’s all he’s interested in.

He doesn’t listen to simple directions:

‘The grass you are standing on, my dear little ones, is made of a new kind of soft, minty sugar that I’ve just invented! I call it swudge! Try a blade! Please do! It’s delectable!’

Automatically, everybody bent down and picked one blade of grass — everybody, that is, except Augustus Gloop, who took a big handful.

In fact, he’s so singularly motivated that he’s likened to an animal:

Augustus was deaf to everything except the call of his enormous stomach. He was now lying full length on the ground with his head far out over the river, lapping up the chocolate like a dog.

These tropes are so pervasive that they are self-perpetuating. There are openly hostile individuals that claim fat people are stupid because they allow themselves to be fat despite purported “health risks” and “easy access” to diet and exercise products, though they only fan the flames of an already robust fire.

Labeling fat people as unintelligent is more symptomatic of a cultural problem then it is causal. The internet doesn’t help, serving as a opaque curtain behind which people can manufacture new examples of the same old hate, and the anonymity seemingly amplifies the aggressive nature of these memes.

Power, Privilege, and Fatness: Why thin shaming isn’t on the level of fat shaming

body shame

Greetings, fellow naturally thin-ish people.

I’d say “thin people,” but most of us are a few years past the point that the angles on our face were perfect no matter what we ate, or our asses could stop traffic. If not? We soon will be. But I’m speaking, here, to the non-fat. The wee. The svelte. The thin. The fast-metabolismed. The genetic lottery winners.

You know who you are. We don’t count calories, we can spend entire days without thinking about our body sizes, and while we may feel like shit about how we look, we certainly aren’t told that it’s all our fault. That’s who we are. If not? Quietly leave. I’m not talking to you.

Are they gone?

Okay.

So hello, thinnish people.

I have some distressing news for all of us, and it comes straight from the fat horse’s mouth:

We don’t get to talk about thin shaming like it’s every bit as bad as fat shaming.

Yes, yes, I know the argument. “Isn’t making fun of anybody’s body just as bad as making fun of anybody else’s?”

No. Just, like, way no. All the no. There’s no more “no” left, because I just took it all.

Stick with me, here.

I rejected this idea for years, myself. I wanted, very badly, for all prejudicial language, and every minimization of a group of people to be analogous and equal. As a thin (not to mention white) male, I wanted very badly for any member of any minority groups’ criticism of me based on anything but my actions to be every bit as bad as every insult thrown at them for no reason. Every barb. Every discriminatory act. Every oblivious act. I wanted my resentment to be as justified as theirs. I wanted them hating on me for being white, or male, or thin– I wanted it to be just as unthinkable and obviously terrible as it would be for me to hate on them for being black, or female, or fat.

But dude, I say, hoping the colloquialism doesn’t alienate…

It way wasn’t.

I was just an asshole.

I have an analogy here that many haven’t considered. It’s obvious, which means I’m a bit of a hack. It’s simplistic, which means I’m not the academic I would love to be, but it is also accurate. When people say that shaming the thin for being thin as akin to shaming the fat for being fat, here is what they are saying:

“Whites are the new blacks.”

Ridiculous, right? But this is an argument that is currently being made. According to a recent survey performed by Harvard and Tufts sociologists, many white Americans believe that they are now the persecuted minority.

Speaking as a white man, we’re not. We absolutely aren’t. We couldn’t be less the new blacks were minstrel shows about white folks to suddenly become, y’know, a thing. I can picture it now:

“Did you file those reports, Johnson?”

“No, Thomas. I was busy getting STARBUCKS!”

<Dismissive song and dance>

<Laughter>

Almost sounds like the Big Bang Theory.

Here’s the thing: there’s no comparing the oppressed with the oppressor. Agents and targets of oppression, as they’re known among several frameworks of social theory, will never be the same thing.

And that doesn’t mean that anybody’s a bad person. Nobody’s suggesting that anybody should be shot for laughing at fat people. But, y’know, nobody was suggesting that many others should be shot for laughing at movie portrayals of House Mammies. And yes, I am comparing these things, and yes, I do believe they’re analogous. Not on the same level, sure, but the same act. The same superior dismissal. The same subjugation and disenfranchisement of a target group.

It’s unthinkable to act, consciously and publicly, as if those who are born different should be treated with malice, but it is still totally okay to treat the larger members of our country with constant disdain, and disrespect. The reason for this is the same reason you’d almost never hear somebody say “I’m fine with Mexicans so long as they’re not all up in my face with it,” but the same is said about gays on a fairly regular basis:

Choice.

Fatness, like sexuality, is seen by many as a matter of choice. And worse yet, while a gay man can’t make himself straight, nor should he, a fat person can make themselves thin, so that must mean thin is better, right? That fat means unhealthy, right? That every fat person is just lazy, right? They should be thin and healthy like us! Go health! Dog-whistles!

I eat like shit, never exercise, and spend all day sitting. My wife eats well, controls portions, exercises, and spends all day on her feet. I’m thin, she’s not. I’m considered height-weight proportionate. She’s not. Oh, and I’m at risk of heart disease. She’s not.

Bullshit it’s all choice, and the health argument is ridiculous. And I am here, in my pants that fit, gleefully doling out said ridicule.

Our differences in metabolism are ignored. People wrongly assume I’m the healthy one and she isn’t, and for this reason, she can be mocked and I can sit in my bubble of oppressive social agency, secure that I’m a part of dominant culture, body-size wise. It’s not okay to say “nigger,” or “bitch,” or “fag” offhandedly on, say, network television, but it is 100% okay to call somebody a fatass. Or tank-ass. Or lard-ass. Or bubble-gut, or even such subtle jabs as “she’s let herself go.”

So when somebody who is exposed to this every minute of every day lashes out and says, “yeah? Well FUCK thin people!” we don’t get to act as if this the same as somebody calling a bigger guy or gal a fatass, because we are told, every time we watch television, every time we see a film, every time we look at a billboard, and every time we see a fashion magazine: “You’re okay. You count. You matter.”

When a gay man says, “fuck straight people,” he is not oppressing, because he is not in power, culturally-speaking. He is not in the position to oppress. When a black man says, “fuck white people,” he is not oppressing white men, because his group is not the dominant group. When a woman says, “fuck men,” she is not oppressing men, because to oppress, your social group must be on top. That’s what oppression is. 

But when a fat person talks smack about the “rail thin,” or the “anorexic models,” or even something so naked as “those fucking thin people,” they are treated, just as their oppressed contemporaries are when they retaliate, as oppressors.

They’re not, dude. They’re way not.

They’re just being assholes.

It’s a very important distinction to make.

Fat people are a persecuted minority. If you don’t believe this, just take in all of your daily media with the idea in mind of how you’d feel if you had what I like to call The Big Gene; if your metabolism sucked, and no matter how healthy you were, you still just had some heft to ya’. Just pay attention for one day to how godawful you’d feel. Most of us don’t even have to reach too far for this, because we’re not models. We’re already facing it, just not on nearly the same level.

Nobody is suggesting that there has ever been a fat-person lynch mob. Nobody is suggesting that fat people are regularly murdered for declaring their love in public. Nobody is actually comparing the plight of the fat to the historical and contemporary plight of other minorities. Nobody who matters, anyway.

But, as always, there’s a “but.”

Fat people are consistently mocked on television and in movies. Magazines have whole issues devoted to “Worst Bathing Suit Bodies”. Fat people are told how they should (and shouldn’t) dress, how they should eat. They are judged much more critically, and much more frequently than non-fat people. They are targets, because they are at the weaker end of the power dynamic. That is what makes “fat bitch” a different insult than “skinny bitch” and why fat shaming is different than thin shaming. Neither is positive, and neither should be acceptable. But thin shaming doesn’t excuse fat shaming; if anything, it only continues to oppress an already oppressed minority.

So, y’know, try not to pile on by pretending to be a victim.

Don’t be an asshole.


UPDATE

We have been receiving a lot of feedback on this article. Check out our responses!

Fattertainment: Body Shaming for Fun and Profit

In movies and on TV nowadays, you very rarely see people being made fun of at the expense of their race or gender. Sexual orientation is improving too, though decidedly not as much. You know who are still hilarious, despite the passage of time and the supposed increased levels of sensitivity? Fat people. We’re so hilarious that it has become deleterious to our mental health.

Ha! Look at that fat boy! He just can’t stop eating! He’s so fat he got stuck in a pipe! Now he’s going to be boiled alive for his gluttony. Let’s sing about him! Hilarious.

Look at that kid, performing for his friends. His existence is amusing enough. He’s lucky to have such normal friends who can really appreciate his body for what it is. Hilarious.

I see what he did there! That used to be an actual song about someone who stuck up for himself and stood his ground. Now that he’s fat, I guess the only think left to sing about is sandwiches. Hilarious.

Speaking of sandwiches, did you know that the only time a fat person can joyfully express their fatness in dance is while they are eating? Unfortunately, we become quickly out of breath and collapse to the ground. Hilarious.

What’s wrong, Shiloh? Can’t you take a joke? Why are you so sensitive?

Guess what, folks? I have SCIENCE on my side. Science that says this pervasive media blitz of fat shaming DOES BAD THINGS.

There is such a thing as fat stigma. It is when people are blamed for being fat because they are lazy, or don’t care about themselves or their health. The same thing happened to those infected with HIV/AIDS in the 80’s and 90’s. People were blamed for a condition that they had no control over. Not just blamed, but VILIFIED. HIV positive is synonymous with “lesser” in the same way fat or plus-sized is.

A recent study has revealed several important facts. First, assumptions about why people are overweight translate into negative attitudes about the people themselves. Secondly, these negative attitudes lead to discrimination, and verbal and physical bullying. Lastly, these misperceptions have deleterious psychological consequences, including depression and decreased life-satisfaction. Fat stigma extends past the internal experience; overweight people are more likely to experience employment discrimination, and have problems with personal relationships. They are even more likely to receive sub-standard healthcare. Overweight people who are stigmatized and experience discrimination are 2.5 times more likely to become obese when compared to people who were not victimized for their weight. People who started the study obese were 3 times more likely to stay obese when subjected to fat stigma.

These problems start early in our lives. Caregivers often provide kids with confusing messages. I myself was always required to clear my plate. My husband had to eat quickly, because if he didn’t he wouldn’t get the same amount of food as his sister. My grandma got me a Spanx-like control-top pair of shorts to wear under a dress when I was 11, so I wouldn’t look “bulgy”, and was constantly telling me to slow down and chew my food. Don’t get me wrong, my grandma was the raddest old lady, kind and compassionate; she was just parroting societal norms.

Social media reinforces these societal norms, as evidenced by the earlier videos. Another article from the American Journal for Public Health breaks it down into numbers. When examining primetime TV shows, heavier characters are less likely to have positive interactions with other characters. For women, 32% of women categorized as heavy have positive interactions, compared to 51% of characters labeled as thin. The numbers for men look similar. Besides interactions, overweight characters are portrayed as less attractive, less competent, less polite, and less charming. Millions and millions of people watch these shows every day.

One of the key things we can do for our mental health and spiritual well-being is to work to remove the stigma associated with our physiques. My body is not comical. My body is not grotesque. I do not deserve being mocked neither for choices I made that caused me to gain weight, nor external or psychological factors. I try not to see movies and watch shows where fat characters serve as comic relief. I choose to say something when someone is making a fat joke or a derisive comment. I like to think I am making a difference.

How do you promote body-positivity in your life and community?

The “Biggest Loser” Can Never be a Winner, and it is Society’s Fault

The Biggest Loser is a game show where fat people compete to see who can lose the largest percentage of their body weight. Most recently, the grand prize winner for season 15 was a young woman by the name of Rachel Frederickson. She started the show weighing 260 lbs.

Rachel Frederickson before having the fat shamed off of her.

Through medically questionable dietary and fitness tactics, she was able to drop down to 105 lbs. Severe caloric restriction and six hours of strenuous exercise per day alone is enough to cause huge stresses on all of your body systems, the most vital being the heart. Ms. Frederickson, just like all of the contestants of The Biggest Loser, literally risked dropping dead of a heart attack to “win” this competition.

Whoa.

So, what happens when I look for articles on Ms. Frederickson?

“Biggest Loser” winner Rachel Frederickson reacts to weight-loss backlash

Biggest Loser Winner Rachel Frederickson Admits She May Have Gone Too Far

Biggest Loser Winner Rachel Frederickson Admits She Lost Too Much Weight Too Fast

So, let me get this right…

At first she was too fat. So fat that she needed to resort to drastic, unhealthy measures to lose weight. Then she lost weight. A lot of weight. Now, apparently, she’s TOO THIN. Really? Seriously?! The problem isn’t Ms. Frederickson’s fatness, or thinness. Apparently, nobody’s bodies are acceptable. We must pass judgement on EVERY PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTE of anyone who dares to step into the spotlight. What must this be doing to the self-esteem of someone who already suffered humiliation and ridicule for being on the opposite end of the spectrum?

HEADDESK

Whitney Thore is My Fat Girl Soulmate

You may have seen posts lately about Whitney Thore, a fat and fabulous body-positivity activist with an inspiring series of YouTube videos entitled “A Fat Girl Dancing”. She has a great new campaign to spread her body-positive message, called the No Body Shame Campaign.

Her homepage sends a resonating message that I don’t wish to paraphrase:

Preach it, Sister.

A little background about Ms. Thore: She is a current radio show producer and personality. She started gaining weight in college around the time she was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. She has dealt with self-esteem problems. She has travelled the world. She is a FIERCE dancer. 

Check out her videos. Here’s my favorite:

What is extra exciting is that Whitney will be on the Today Show on February 28th talking about her campaign. I love seeing a fat, beautiful, charismatic young woman such as herself on the public stage, proud, unapologetic, and flat-out amazing. My dreams are smaller. For example, I’d be happy just being able to have her as my Twitter follower.

Fierce.

 

Dr. Oz’s Bottomless Bag of Body-Shaming

I could write an entire blog just discussing the douchebaggery of Dr. Oz.

For those of you not acquainted with the wonders of daytime television, Dr. Mehmet Oz is a cardiac surgeon. He went to Harvard. Then Wharton. Then the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He currently teaches at Columbia, where he directs the Cardiovascular Institute and Integrative Medicine Program. He has patents. He has authored many papers. He got his showbiz career start as a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2004. He then received his own spin off series produced by Harpo (Oprah’s production company) called The Dr. Oz Show. He’s won Emmys. Sounds legit, right? Right?

He’s wearing scrubs. Take him seriously.

Dr. Oz uses a lot of decisive language, claiming “revolutionary” “miracles” and “cures” for a whole host of health problems. One particular hill Oz has decided to die on is the horrible burden of fat. Not necessarily obesity (a nebulous term at best), but fat of any kind. I decided to spend some time over at his website watching episodes, and I think I killed off a small part of my soul in the process. The search term “fat loss” returned 752 results when I searched episode topics. I present a small sample of episode titles:

21 Days to a Flat Belly

Dr. Oz’s Two-Week Rapid Weight Loss Diet

Melt Your Fat Fast

Three Teas That Will Shrink Your Waist

The Next Big Weight-Loss Superstar

New Ayurvedic Fat Fighters

The Secret World of Squashers (wait, how is this even a health topic?)

Oz starts most episodes talking with guests (mostly women), encouraging them to speak about their bodies under the pretense of helping them to self-actualize and appreciate themselves for who they are, after which he promptly prescribes that they lose weight. I found a particularly shaming episode about bedonks that… well, see for yourself:

Bust Your Butt Fat, pt 1

Bust Your Butt Fat, pt 2

Bust Your Butt Fat pt. 3

I need to face my “rear-ality” and “bust (my) butt fat” with a “butt busting brownie”. Oh, to be as lucky as the guests on his show, standing around in nothing but panties and a t-shirt, encouraged to disparage my tush on national television in front of millions of people.

Apparently, there are only 4 steps I need to follow to fix my derrière dilemma. If you watch more Dr. Oz (though I don’t recommend it) you’ll notice a similar trend: “3 Ways to Get Your Fat to Eat Itself”, “The 3-Step Action Plan to Supercharge Your Hormones and Melt Fat”, and “4 Ways to Flush Fat From Your Body” are some examples. First, I find the numerical aspect interesting. Is there something innately appealing about a checklist? From my experience, quick fixes and fads do not make for sustainable weight loss. However, lists like these prey on the insecurities and frustrations of plus sized women, telling them that now, finally, there is an easy solution that will work for them. They just need to try! The other critical feature of these titles is that they heavily imply negative connotations. “Bust Your Butt Fat” evokes a feeling of combativeness, while “3 Ways to Get Your Fat to Eat Itself” implies some sort of weird, alpha-fat cannibalism super-struggle within your own body. I never understood the use of “melt” as a verb for weight loss, because it implies that the body is interacting with fat in a way that isn’t even scientifically accurate, and the same goes for “flushing” fat from one’s body.

Dr. Oz’s manipulative phraseology and imagery conveys a message that is just wrong. Millions of women watch his show every day. Millions of women hear Dr. Oz, a physician, telling them that their body is malformed and that they are unhealthy. Just in case you were wondering, there is no revolutionary miracle cure for “obesity” that involves shock, humiliation, and manipulation of statistics. That’s called bullying. In Dr. Oz’s case, it’s the bullying of millions of people for the sake of profit and renown.

What a douche.